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Dear PoP – photo radar question

by Prince Of Petworth November 4, 2010 at 2:30 pm 68 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoP,

I recently got an automated photo radar ticket for going 36 mph in a 25 mph. This is frustrating because the camera, located on Michigan Ave NE just east of North Capitol, is located on a six-lane road that ordinarily would have a higher speed limit. I recently returned to the area and drove 25 mph… I felt unsafe, as every other car was zipping by me!

I haven’t seen the subject discussed on your site, so I wanted to see if you could ask your readers if they have any first-hand advice on how to fight these sorts of tickets and any idea idea what the success rate is. Usually they’re pretty insightful on this sort of stuff. I’m also wondering if I risk getting a lager fine and points on my license if I fight and lose, as opposed to just sucking it up paying the $125.”

Well, I don’t think you can fight a speeding ticket if you were actually speeding. Whether or not it is a fair speed I think is a whole different story than fighting the ticket. If you think the speed is unreasonably slow – how would you guys suggest going about possibly getting it changed? Talk to your council member? But as for the ticket, the reader is probably stuck paying it right?

  • GK

    Pretty much gonna be stuck paying the fine – the Speed limit is what it is, and the cameras are set. I’ve contested a ticket before – NOT because I contested the speed violation; rather I contested the fact that they said I didn’t pay on first notice and therefore doubled the fine– even though I never received the first ticket. They reduced the fine to the original amount when I told them I never receieved first ticket.

    While in the room, though, I saw SEVERAL other people get their tickets thrown out (many showing LEGAL right turns on red); and others showing that there were MULTIPLE cars in the picture – so there was no way of proving that the speeding car was theirs— THIS may be an argument you consider.

    I don’t think you risk a larger fine or points for trying to fight…. BUT – The key is to respond in writing or by going down to DMV and requesting a hearing within the original time frame that your ticket is due – at which point they will “suspend” the ticket until your hearing date. At the hearing – you can make whatever argument you want, and the presider will make a determination as to whether the ticket still stands or if the fine can be reduced or thrown out. I am pretty certain you will NOT run the risk of it being increased just for trying to contest it…. but be sure to request the hearing within the original time frame that your ticket payment is due. Hope that helps… good luck.

    • la_niña

      This is not a six lane road as the letter writer mentions. It has rush hour restriction on the block east from North Capitol but no parking restrictions where the camera is. In this long block up to where it meets Irving it is 2 lanes in each direction – and yes – pay up. Speed limit in all city streets is 25 MPH except where otherwise noted.

  • BTW, the sign in the photo has sadly been replaced by a non-edited version. :(

    • ET

      Bummer. I think the addition of the N makes for a more amusing situation.

      Captcha: EWKS (remonds me of Ewoks)

  • Dr Pangloss

    Drive as fast as you want on the Beltway, or in the ‘burbs. People actually *walk* here in the city. So really, I don’t give a flying fuck if every other asshole driving a car is also endangering pedestrians and cyclists. Slow the fuck down.

    More speed cameras, please.

    • Ha

      The stopping distance for cars at 36 vs 25 is not very much different.

      • 14th St Heights

        but the impact if you hit someone at the higher speed is significant. The speed camera is in that area because it’s full of students going to the various universities there. Many are walking; many are speeding in their cars. The wide avenue is what makes it feel ok to go faster. However, the cameras are marked in that area and everywhere else. I’ve been ticketed by that one as well. The key is slow down between Franklin St. and Irving on Michigan Ave. and really, as the above poster said, everywhere else.

        • Anon

          The problem with this (and I am *only* talking about the stretch between Michigan and the high school on Taylor) is that there is ZERO pedestrian or other non-car infrastructure. No sidewalks. No bike lanes. The only cross streets are an overpass and a freakin’ cloverleaf! for all intents and purposes this is a mini-highway. Of course the speeds that people carry on that stretch naturally convey to south of Michigan Ave with it’s numerous lights, sidewalks, cross streets, etc. The real solution is to re-engineer that entire stretch to fit in with N Cap north and south of it. Of course since it is flanked by the old soldiers home, the backs of townhouse lots, and the empty Catholic land there is no real infill to support that. At least now. If the Old Soldiers Home every gets re-purposed we might see it all torn up and replaced, especially if the McMillan site does, too. Until then there is little reason to. 25 MPH for that mile is a burden to bear and a real cash cow for the city.

          • Anon

            Crap, nevermind, I just realized that you were talking about the Michigan Ave camera and NOT the new mobile-soon-to-be-permanent one on North Capitol. In that case, yeah, you don’t have a leg to stand on. It runs through two urban campuses. Slow down.

          • Anonymous

            but.. agreed about north capitol above michigan. fucking floor it. you aint hurting anyone there.

            on michigan: slow the hell down.

      • JS

        But the survivability rates of pedistrians hit at 25 v. 35 are very different.

      • park

        How do you mean “not much different?” Standardized stopping distance (including reaction time) at 25 mph = 85 ft. At 35 mph = 136 ft. That’s quite different 85ft vs. 136 ft makes a difference.

    • Alexandria Res

      The funny thing is, if you live in the ‘burbs (especially Fairfax County) they ticket you for every little infraction. But people still drive like maniacs out there.

      Also, it’s impossible to speed on the Beltway since it’s always in gridlock.

    • Anonymous

      Really, no one should be trying to walk in the 3rd street tunnel (where the limit is very low and there’s a camera).

    • Morley

      Nice attitude. Speed in the burbs. Because we should do everything stupid in the burbs because as urban non-car-owners we are so much better than everyone else. And it’s always okay to speed where you don’t live so mowing down a family in Rockville or causing a 12 car pileup on the Beltway is completely acceptable.

      You shouldn’t speed anywhere but there are places where the speed limit is horribly unreasonble although this probably isn’t one of them. I can see why it is 25 here but to the original poster, pay the fine and now you know. Do what I do here and on 16th street by Carter Barron. Drive 55 and when you see the hash lines, slam on your brakes and coast through at 25 and then accelerate back up to 55. It’s much safer that way and you avoid the fines.

      • Dr Pangloss

        You’re the reason we’ll eventually just get these things (speed cameras) every half block or so.

  • CA

    25mph is somewhat slow for 6 lanes, although two of them allow 24 hour parking, but you are driving through an area with some major foot traffic that’s often ignored.

    Trinity University is located right in front of the cameras and then you quickly approach the National Basilica, Catholic University and about 5 other schools and theological centers. You aren’t able to drive anymore quickly through GW, G’town or Howard’s major thoroughfares.

  • 11 miles over the limit. Pay your fine.

  • Claire

    Same exact thing happened to me (caught by a speed camera on Michigan Ave near North Capitol, 36 in a 25), the speed limit *is* slower than it need be there (as in other places I’ve noticed around the city, such as the stretch of North Capitol between Taylor St and Michigan Ave – 35 for 6 lanes with zero cross roads, zero traffic lights, and zero pedestrian traffic). However, there’s nothing you can do to contest the ticket, and I highly doubt the speed limits are going to change any time soon.

    My recommendation: drive at or below the speed limit. It seems silly to say, but even if people are tailgating you and zooming around you as they doubtless will be, you will never be in danger of a speeding ticket again. Other benefits: better gas mileage (the more you accelerate and decelerate, the worse your gas mileage is), less feeling rushed (after having eliminated speeding as an option to get somewhere faster, I either leave with enough time to get there or calmly accept my fate of being late), potentially creating a more walkable city (if everyone in DC were to decide to do this). Just a thought.

  • mmm

    The only defense for speeding is that you were moving with the flow of traffic — that is, it was safer to go the speed you were going versus the posted speed limit. It may be difficult to prove this, but based on what you wrote, it sounds applicable.

    As long as you fight the ticket according to the guidelines and within the allowed timeframe, you can’t be penalized for fighting (no points, late fees, etc).

    • GDopplerXT

      Is that actually a defense? That’s kind of like “everybody else was doing it so I did it too.” I don’t really know, but I would think that would be a very poor defense.

      • Ragged Dog

        That’s actually how the speed limits are set, so it is a somewhat valid defense. Speed limits have to be determined by the actual driving speed that people use, then it can be downgraded for being in a school zone, the number of crosswalks, proximity to senior homes, etc.

        Municipalities are *required* to test the speed on roads periodically to justify the speed limit set. If you’ve ever driven over a thin rubber tube stapled to the ground, you’ve participated in the data gathering.

        • Anonymous

          That’s definitely NOT true for this area of Michigan Ave. at issue. For years, that area was posted 35 mph, and traffic tended to run 35-40 mph there. Then, less than a year ago, the 35 mph signs were removed, and were not replaced with ANY signage. In DC, the law is that where the speed limit is not posted, it’s 25. The speed camera went up, and DC’s cash machine began churning out tickets.

          This had nothing to do with Trinity students or anyone else. It’s a way for the city to rake in dough.

          • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    The writer is comparing apples to oranges: the only question on the existing ticket is whether he violated the posted limit. Asking about the wisdom/safety of that posted limit has nothing to do with whether the ticket is valid. “Just keeping up with traffic” is a time-tested losing argument for getting out of a ticket. If you want to contest the ticket, you need to come up with something better, like the camera being broken or it not being your car. If you want to get the nonsensical 25mph zone changed, go to your councilmember or petition the public safety organ of DC city government, whatever that is.

  • anon.

    suck it up and pay the fine. At least you weren’t caught by a traffic cop, if so, we’d be talking about points.
    As you may know cameras don’t carry points.
    Feel lucky the camera nabbed you. Again as others have pointed out, 11 over the limit is what it is…

  • Fed Up

    DC: How do we tax the untaxbles?
    DC: Charge them for every possible moving and parking violation with outdated and poorly functioning equipment (which always seems to lean in favor of the city).

    faq this place

    • Dr Pangloss

      Now you’re catching on. Slow down, or give us your money.

    • Anonymous

      i’m all for it.

  • MK

    You’re going to have to pay. Your only comfort is that they caught all those other people zipping by you. A profitable day for DC govt.

  • Eric

    I agree that given the streetscape, 25 is too slow. But the street is also waaay too big. you dont need 3 lanes in each direction. As for walkability. I’ve been driving up there 1/week for about 3 years and the only pedestrian I’ve seen between michigan and Fort Dr NE is the cop getting out of the car to check the camera. No bus stops along there, and I dont even think there are sidealks the entire way. Its not well designed.

    • Anon

      RE: bus stops. The 80 and a couple of the H’s run that stretch of Michigan Ave from Brookland METRO to North Capitol. So, yes, there are bus stops and people crossing to/from them.

      • Eric

        @anon 3:38, you are mistaken. The 80 turns right at Michigan. The D8, H2, H4 and H9,never go up or cross that stretch.


        • CA

          Eric, that’s the stretch we’re discussing…

    • CA

      You don’t seem to be the most observant driver, which worries me since I share the roads with you.

      There are sidewalks from N. Cap. St. all the way down Michigan Ave. on each side of the road all the way into Maryland.

      There is a bus stop on each side of Michigan between Franklin and the cameras.

      There is a large residential complex that houses a significant number of Catholic and Trinity University students who walk along that corridor to their respective campuses.

      Not to mention a small strip mall that draws foot traffic from the universities, Basilica and even the hospitals on the other side on N. Cap….who also use a parking lot adjacent to the mall.

      Slow down kids. It might not look all that busy on that side of town with the wide roads, tree lined streets and open undeveloped land, but it is busy.

      This will all be revisited I’m sure once the “revitalization” of the area kicks off in a few months.


      • Dr Pangloss

        Well, hopefully the number of assholes doing 40mph in 25 mph zones will supress anyone’s desire to actually walk around here–that way we can all talk about how the speed limit needs to be raised because no one walks around here.

    • Marc

      The city should be careful before narrowing roads/installing traffic calming devices. There was an interesting study of Austin several years ago that found, due to decreased emergency vehicle response times, an additional 30+ people died of cardiac arrest for every pedestrian life saved. I think this only applied to residential neighborhoods, but it’s worth thinking about the next time someone proposes adding speed humps or whatever to your street.

    • JL

      Eric, 3 lanes each direction is definitely NOT too many for that stretch. For one thing, there is 24 hour parking in the curb lane on each side, so we are really talking about 2 lanes each direction. There are a lot of turns being made around there (into the Trinity parking lot and the shopping center/office building across the street, as well as the Cloisters apartment complex). Traffic does get clogged up around there with all the turns and buses, and the extra lane allows you to pass cars waiting to turn. I drive this stretch going to and from work every day.

      Re: the “flow of traffic” being 35 mph there, I have to say I’ve never had that experience. Those cameras are obvious and well-known (huge white lines on the street are a dead giveaway), and it seems that most cars slow down to an ungodly 15-20 mph to avoid the ticket.

  • LCM

    I went to traffic court up in MD and saw a man get his ticket fine reduced by arguing that he felt unsafe going as slow as the speed limit because of the the speed of the cars around him. Although he still had to pay, it was reduced. This mostly depends on the leniency of your judge.

  • Linds

    You will never get a higher fine or more points on your license by going to court for a speeding ticket. You will have the same fine/pts and miss a day of work, and more often than not the judge will reduce the fine to court fees only and take away the points. I go for all of my tickets, every time, and I plead guilty when asked by the judge. I’ve had at least five speeding tickets and have never had a point on my license. Apparently they take your presence in court as indication that you give a crap about your driving record and the legal system, so they reward you as appropriate.

    • Linds

      PS, “mmm” is wrong. “I was going along with traffic” is the one excuse every judge dismisses. As a matter of fact, they usually start the hearings by stating that it won’t get you out of a ticket, so don’t even try.

      • w00t

        5 speeding tickets?!! Jesus, slow the f down.

        • Anonymous

          Eh, if she takes the same route every day, goes slightly over the limit, and there’s a radar, she could easily rack up 5 tickets. I’m generally accused of driving like an old lady (slower than everyone else on the road) but I got two tickets in one week when my commute changed and I was going through the 3rd street tunnel every day. Taught me to pay better attention to the posted limits!

  • notolp

    duh – speed limit – do not go more than the limit – you can go less than the limit, too.

    whine, snicker, sniffle…I got caught breaking the law and that’s not fair…to me.

  • Eric in Ledroit

    pay your fine whiner.

    • dreas


  • lolo

    I fight every and all tickets (parking included). I’ve only had to pay one. They could not read my tag number back to be in the photo enforcement tickets. Conflicting signs in the parking tickets. If everybody faught all of their tickets, it would overwhelm the system. Stick to the man becuase you can best believe he’s going to stick to you.

    • GDopplerXT

      -1. Bad attitude. People like you are the reason we can’t have nice things. If everybody did the right thing and took responsibility for their actions we wouldn’t have to waste resources on enforcing parking and speeding tickets.

      • lolo

        Listen I pay my taxes as a homeowner( some of the highest taxes in the nation and we are not a state last I checked) The City Govt needs to balance the budget, cut pet projects and waste, and catch $50 tax scammers.

        BTW, I also used my 5 cent bag to cover the parking meters. I will not pay taxes and be nickled and dimes too. That is all

        • GDopplerXT

          Listen I do all that too, so do a lot of folks. Big deal, welcome to civilized society.

          Not speeding or parking illegally is free. Doesn’t cost you a nickel OR a dime. You don’t have to pay the “bag tax”, there is a very easy way around that fee in case you didn’t know.

          Getting speeding/parking tickets and then contesting every single one of ’em in court means we all pay more taxes, or that our tax money gets wasted on you in court rather than going toward something useful.

          (BTW, I’m not meaning to be insulting, I just really do not buy any of your arguments.)

        • dynaryder

          WTF? Traffic fines are not taxes,they are penalties for doing something WRONG. You have no right to speed,change lanes w/out indicating,make U turns wherever,etc. It always pisses me off when people make the excuse that traffic laws are just for making money. Go play on Google. You’ll find out that distracted driving killed more people than handguns last year.

  • Herman

    Try this stuff and get back to us:


    Stick it to the man!

    • lolo

      In my P Diddy voice, “take dat, take dat, take dat”.

  • Anonymous

    Go to adjudication and ask for their evidence of who, when, how the camera was calibrated. If they can’t appear, then the evidence can’t be used and you could get the charge dismissed? Could get it thrown out if they failed to follow all the proper steps? Would work in court, but here in DC, not sure if they really work by the letter of the law anyway.


  • Erik

    Look at the difference between 25mph and 35 mph.

    “A person struck at 40mph has a 85% chance of dying, a person struck at 20 mph has a 95% chance of living.”


  • Greg

    DC residents and bikers put themselves in harms way completely oblivious to the laws they should follow. We dont ticket them because its not a money maker, same as littering.

    • Dr Pangloss

      Well, that plus they’re completely benign–as opposed to the ass-wipes who think they can speed with impunity.

      Let’s bash squirrels next.

  • Anonymous

    The issue isn’t whether the writer has any ground to fight the ticket: they don’t, and should just pay it.

    The issue really is: What are appropriate locations for these cameras? I’ve never been on the stretch mentioned here, so I can’t answer to that. But some of the other camera locations are pretty blatantly placed as a cash grab for the city.

    The one on New York Avenue after Bladensburg serves zero purpose, NONE, other than to raise revenue for the city. (Even that hectoring nanny David Alpert agrees with this.) There is no reason that the speed limit should be so low there.

    The same goes for any speed camera in the Third Street Tunnel.

  • Watch out for the cop who sets up on Michigan Ave just over 12th NE street (if you are traveling West) The cop sets up in front of the school next to Turkey Thicket Park / Rec. center, usually in a small silver SUV with the camera on the stand.

  • K

    Obviously, no way out of the ticket.

    I will say I wish the city would be better at putting up the speed limit signs if they are going to use these cameras. I got one of these (36 in a 25) on a different camera, also on a six lane road. The road did not remotely seem like the speed limit was 25. I sure hadn’t seen a sign, and assumed based on the nature of the road and by the traffic going 35+ that the speed limit was 35. I checked the next time I drove through the area — no speedlimit signs within several blocks of the camera.

  • Just wait for the stop sign cameras. Then you will all go crazy.

  • Anon

    You were speeding. Suck it up, pay the fine and next time you drive on that stretch SLOW DOWN. I could see fighting it if you were not speeding, but don’t waste my taxpayer money fighting a ticket for an infaction you committed! And if you just can’t bring yourself to drive the posted speed limit in the City, check the camera locations on MPD’s website like the rest of us to make sure you’re not caught again.

  • Craig

    What I find interesting is that everyone who received a ticket and commented was nailed for 36 in a 25. Typically the camers are set for >10 MPH over the speed limit. I myself received two tickets on Rock Creek Church Road for 36 in 25 on two consecutive days. Before all the folks on this board who from what it seems have never gone above the speedlimit jump all over me saying “slow the f down” I was (and remain) highly skeptical of those readings as with typically 4 – 5 speed checks on my route home from work I pay close attention to my speed especially as I know where the cameras are (and I better say for safety reasons too or else I’m opening myself up to another attack). Was I going above 25? Yes, but I firmly believe it was not above 30 let alone 35…and going EXACTLY 36 on two consecutive days? Hummmm. As angry as I was did not fight the tickets and just paid them. Won’t even go into the fact that the officer in the car that is supposedly “validating” the results is frequently asleep. It simply seems like too much of a coincidence that everyone is getting nailed for 36. And by the way in DC if you go to court they present you with calibration documents and documents indicating the validating officer is sufficiently trained.

    • es

      I live next to that camera location and pass it multiple times daily. I have never gotten a ticket, but I always drive the speed limit.

      The camera may not be perfectly calibrated, but it isn’t ticketing people going under 30 mph either or I’d owe 1000s in fines.

      And I’ve never seen an officer sleeping there–and I pass on foot, on a bicycle or in a car at least 4-5 times each day.

  • Dr Pangloss

    I’ve got a question for PoP: Why the hell can’t I get one of these for Constitution Ave, NE? Or C Street, NE? Every single car driving into the city in the morning is speeding. Every single car driving out of the city in the evening is speeding. 9 out of 10 are going at least 10 over.

    What are the technical issues? Is the city trying to overcome them? Let’s get on it.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for all the feedback and advice (I was the original poster).

    I think it’s absolute insanity that a six-lane road has the same speed limit as a one-way street going through a neighborhood. I really can’t believe it’s for any reason other than to catch people on the cameras. But, while I disagree with that law, I absolutely concede that I was speeding.

    All I sought to know is whether there is any way to get the fine reduced/eliminated through adjudication services. I’m not trying to game the system, but if someone is willing to let me pay less, why not take them up on the offer?

    And seriously — can we stop pretending that I’m a reckless monster for driving 36 mph? Let’s get real.

  • Kamantha

    Do what everybody else does: slow down at the camera and then when they pass it speed back up!

  • kt

    it’s a design problem to build a road with multiple wide lanes that encourages drivers to speed, but is signed for 25 mph — it should be designed and built in a way that forces drivers to drive the designated speed. called ‘context sensitive solutions’ in the traffic engineering world.


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